Tanvee Badheka of Jakarta, Indonesia, knew American culture from television and movies but had never visited Virginia Tech before she came to campus the summer before her first year.

“People were welcoming,” said Badheka, a sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering with a minor in business in Pamplin College of Business. “They made the effort, even if it was just attempting to say my name correctly. I made mostly American friends my first semester. Then I joined some Indian heritage organizations and began making connections with others of my background.”

Now on the leadership team for Cranwell International Center’s Global Ambassadors program, Badheka smooths the transition for other international students coming to Virginia Tech. “I tell them not to be afraid to ask questions, whether it is about unfamiliar cultural references in jokes or acclimating to the sound of a Southern accent. I tell them not to feel pressure to change themselves.”

Last semester, Badheka was invited to the president’s box in Lane Stadium for the Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State football game. This spring, she was one of five Virginia Tech students selected to attend the Atlantic Coast Conference Leadership Symposium. “To represent international students was a great honor,” she said.

“Virginia Tech’s international students are a dynamic part of our learning environment,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo. “In an increasingly global society, their perspectives and engagement are key.”

“We are continuing to leverage the diversity that is represented in our international student population. said David Clubb, director of Cranwell International Center. “They bring value to our university and the broader community by contributing to the intercultural competency of all students and to the advancement of Virginia Tech as a global land-grant institution.”

Cranwell International Center was established to respond to the specific needs of Virginia Tech's international community. A unit within the Division of Student Affairs, the center helps integrate international students into the campus community, equip them for success inside and outside the classroom, foster engagement with domestic students, and ensure institutional compliance with federal regulations governing the enrollment of international students.

The center opened in spring 1986 after a generous gift from alumnus Bill Cranwell Sr., a member of the Class of 1957, and his wife, Stella Mullins Cranwell.

Now in its 30th year, Cranwell International Center has renewed its commitment to its founding mission and placed a new emphasis on realizing the mutual benefits of domestic and international students’ interactions.

The center’s new intercultural initiative comes at a time when Virginia Tech has its largest-ever population of international students – 2,065 graduate students and 1,508 undergraduate students totaling 3,573. That’s a 17 percent increase from 2014 and a 54 percent increase in five years. Virginia Tech has the highest number of international students of any institution in Virginia. More than 100 countries in all regions of the world are represented.

“I became involved with Cranwell because I feel as though the international community at Virginia Tech goes unnoticed,” said Hailey Morris of Annapolis, Maryland, a senior double majoring in international studies and Spanish with a concentration in global development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

“The international students bring so much to the Hokie Nation,” Morris said. “There are so many people, languages, cultures, and religions to learn about, and I am forever thankful to Cranwell and my international friends for opening so many doors for me. I have met people through Cranwell that I never would've met otherwise. Because of them I have a greater appreciation for my own culture, cultures around the world, and Virginia Tech. I have learned that differences are not obstacles. Just because someone speaks a different language or has a different religion than you do, they are not any less important.” 

Referencing university-wide initiatives such as Beyond Boundaries and InclusiveVT, Clubb said, “It is an exciting time to be a part of this community, because each of the new programs has an international component that enriches institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion in its broadest sense.”

Virginia Tech has added an international student achievement ceremony this spring to celebrate graduates’ accomplishments. Preliminary discussions are underway for a planned living-learning community with a global focus, a partnership between the Division of Student Affairs, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Outreach and International Affairs. In addition, Cranwell International Center will administer an intercultural development inventory to Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets seniors this year, with plans to offer the same assessment tool to first-year students next fall.

“The hope is that Virginia Tech is producing students who can navigate in a global society — people who have the knowledge, skills, and perspectives that enable them to share their own culture and encounter new cultures as global citizens,” said Clubb.

“This is a shared responsibility for the entire campus community, requiring every administrative and academic unit to ensure that international students are not ‘invisible’ to them and are not treated as outsiders. This requires commitment from institutional leadership at the highest levels and support from the entire campus community,” Clubb said.

Written by Sandy Broughton.

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